Tampopo and Defining the “Foodie” Hierarchy

Tampopo is a Japanese comedic movie that presents a triumphant story of a noodle shop owner’s search for the perfect ramen recipe. Through a series of scenes, the owner Tampopo trains to become a successful ramen chef while embarking on a meticulous food adventure of sampling other shops’ ramen.

As an aside to Tampopo’s endeavor, the film presents unrelated side stories that help establish the concept of what a foodie is in 1985 Japan. It is through the collaboration of these plot lines that the foodie hierarchy is constructed. Differing from the preconceived social hierarchy, the foodie hierarchy has no relation to a person’s social or monetary status. Three specific persons that exemplify this fact are the truck driver Goro, the junior business associate, and the group of vagabonds.

As a truck driver who dresses casually and who is of the working class, Goro would appear to be unknowledgeable on food matters. But, on the contrary, he is well-informed about ramen. Through his past experiences, Goro learned the art of appreciating ramen from the old ramen master. With his acquired tastes and knowledge of all things ramen, Goro is the perfect man to be Tampopo’s teacher. In instilling his ideas and distinguished palate to Tampopo, Goro helps reinforce the idea that anyone can be a foodie as long as one can appreciate what is being made and eaten.

Goro instructing Tampopo about ramen’s key factors

For the junior business associate, the entire hierarchy between his superiors and himself is inverted over a luncheon at a fancy French restaurant. While the elder and more powerful men in the room struggle to order from the menu, the associate thoroughly examines his options and goes on to have a cultured discussion with the waiter about quenelle prepared in the shape of a sausage and the escargots wrapped in pastry. The waiter and associate establish a type of conspiracy in the manner that they share this passionate conversation as the other businessmen look upon them in awe.

Trying to keep the associate in his lower standing

In this scene, the associate rises above his superiors in the foodie hierarchy; his knowledge of food culture clearly situates him above the other businessmen. Moreover, the associate establishes himself as the superior foodie despite the multiple signs, such as how the men were seated and how the orders were taken, indicating his lower class status. Even as his boss kicks him under the table to remind him of his place, the associate finishes off his well-rounded order with a specific wine choice that topples the others’ requests for Heineken beers.

Vagabond showing off his culinary skills

In the group of vagabonds, there is an extensive collaborative knowledge of all things food. One man is an expert in meat while another in wine and yet another in omelets. Together, these homeless people represent an unlikely group to be considered cultured. This once again reinforces the idea that truly anyone can be a foodie since it is a persona separate from one’s monetary and social status.


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